ZIMBABWE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE
“THE FAMILY IS
THE BASIC UNIT
Pastoral Statement on the Cairo World Conference on
Population and Development 1994
The United Nations observes 1994 as the YEAR OF THE FAMILY. The Catholic Church has accepted this and marked the occasion with Pope John Paul’s “Letter to Families”.
1994 is also the year of the Cairo World Conference on Population and Development. We regret to inform you that the agenda of this global event which is to take place in September on the African continent is indifferent, if not actually hostile to the family.
LOVE, MARRIAGE and FAMILY
We, the Catholic Bishops of Zimbabwe, defend the family as the basic unit of society (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations 1948) against all attcks and corrosive influences. We appeal to all Catholic and Christian parents, and indeed to all men and women of goodwill in this country, to strengthen the family which is the very centre of our African culture and guard against all influences and ideologies which belittle, ridicule and degrade what is most dear to us.
We are confronted with a stark choice: to opt for the “family as the heart of a civilization of love” or to live lonely isolated lives without lasting family bonds. To let our sexual nature be the force that ties us to the one beloved person of our lives or to use it merely for selfish pleasure in fleeting physical encounters without any commitment to the other or responsibility for the resulting new life.
For love to last it needs to dwell in a ‘house’, i.e. a social framework, a set of supporting laws and customs. This ‘house’ in which love can dwell is marriage as a lasting, lifelong commitment, recognized and supported by the community.
Marriage is the foundation on which the family is built. Marriage is more than a temporary arrangement for sexual self –fulfillment. Marriage is meant to grow into a family. The love of the spouses for each other is meant to ‘spill over’ into the love of the children. This is the order established by the Creator. Children born into this world have a right to be born into a house filled with the lasting love of their parents. They have a right to be born into a stable, loving family.
The word “love” does not occur in the documents of the Cairo Conference. The family is only mentioned as “a basic unit of society”, not as “the basic unit”. The documents speak about the “family in all its forms” which might include free unions, “same sex couples” etc. Family is no longer the norm; it is merely a free option.
The key concept of Cairo is “reproductive rights” (or “reproductive health” or “sexual health”). What this jargon means is this:
Every individual, regardless of sex, age, marital status, is said to have the right to be “sexually active” in whatever way he/she chooses, without any obligation to accept the consequences or responsibilities involved. In this view sexuality is self-centred; there is no reaching out beyond the self to the other person. Promiscuous sexual relations are accepted if they are safe (=not resulting in pregnancy, STD or AIDS). The moral demand that sexuality be integrated into the loving and lasting personal relationship which we call marriage is ignored. Only the rules of sexual hygiene have to be observed by the consumer of this freely available good called sex.
This ideology reflects the moral decay and decadence of Western society from where it comes. It is a frontal assault against our African family culture.
In the name of the Church which is the Family of the sons and daughters of God we appeal to all married couples and parents, but also to all young people who long for genuine love to reject this moral poison which has the deadly power to destroy our families and to fatally weaken our society.
Sexuality and the Responsibility for Life
The more sexually promiscuous people are, the more abortions there will be. Contraception is supposed to make abortion unnecessary. In fact, reliance on contraception leads to more casual sexual relations. Since contraception of whatever kind is never 100% effective, the number of “unwanted pregnancies” rises. “Every child born must be a wanted child,” the Cairo documents say. Which implies that every child not wanted, e.g. a child conceived in a casual affair, should be aborted?
At the 1984 Mexico City Population Conference it was agreed that “in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning”. Cairo tries to erode this consensus. Pressure is put by Population Planners on sovereign nations to abolish laws that protect unborn life. Societies afraid of children try to instill their fears in societies which love children.
If every individual has a right to be sexually active, then there is no mutual responsibility, no social obligation to mother and child. The “sexually active” woman is left entirely on her own. She should claim the right to “safe” abortions, the Cairo agenda suggests. This is the price she is expected to pay for her own “sexual freedom” (and for the freedom of the male to use her at will). However, there is no such thing as “safe” abortion: it is always lethal for the child and mutilates the woman deeply in body and soul.
The rights of the “sexually active” are to be observed, the Cairo ideologies admonish us. There is no mention of the right to life of the unborn. There is no mention either of duties and responsibilities. The aborted child is a victim of the brutal egotism of the “sexually active” individual who has cut himself off from all obligations towards family, community and, finally, the Creator.
Love gives life. Selfishness kills
Sexuality is not a drug for self pleasure. It is meant to be an expression of interpersonal love. It is the source of human life.
If we lose respect for the source of life, we will lose respect for the human life itself. There is a grim connection between sins against the sixth commandments (“You must not commit adultery”) and sins against the fifth (“You must not kill”).
There is only one fully effective weapon against the great social evil of abortion, and that is chastity: sexual abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage.
We must also warn against ambiguity of the term “contraception”. Many so-called contraceptives do not prevent conception, as the term suggests, but are in fact abortive: they prevent the development of the already fertilized egg (= early embryo = human life in its earliest stage), they kill a human being. Among these drugs are the anti-pregnancy vaccines, “morning-after” pills, or the abortion pill RU486. Also the IUD (ultra-uterine device) has an abortifacient effect (Cf. Pontifical Council for the Family: Ethical and Pastoral Dimensions of Population Trends, Instrumentum Laboris, pp. 25/26).
Responsible Parenthood versus Population Control
The preparatory documents for the Cairo World Conference on Population Development suggest that population growth equals poverty, the fewer people are added to the existing population the less poverty there will be, in other words the fewer children are born the more the prosperity there will be.
This is a very simplistic propaganda slogan. The full demographic truth, of course about the relationship between population growth and economic development is much more complex. A reduced growth rate, as a merely negative factor, produces nothing. Only positive development efforts locally and economic justice internationally improve people’s standard of living. But the documents say very little about development and the duty of the rich nations to support it.
A slowing down of population growth may improve the chances for development under certain conditions, but does not bring about development by itself. As a matter of fact, the growth rate has already decreased globally after its peak 1965-70.
The rich nations of the north, some of which have death rates higher than birth rates (being below “replacement level”), see the population growth of the south as a threat to themselves. Sponsoring population control programmes is a defensive measure cheaper than the required new international economic order. We sincerely hope that our leaders recognize this.
Also in the field of “population policy”, we are determined to defend the family. We do not hesitate to call the love of the African family for children a great value which we wish to preserve. We will not allow this great value to be destroyed by propaganda which appeals to selfishness and greed. This was the consent of the African Bishops recently assembled for the Africa Synod in Rome. “Should we Africans allow foreigners to tell us what to do or what not to do at the level of our families (which is) our domestic church and first school?”, one of the bishops asked. An African catholic woman, Mrs. Kathryn Hauwa Hoomkwap from Nigeria, addressing the Bishops, said, “Bad leadership and mismanagement of public funds are the problems of African countries and not over-population”.
The church, herself called a mother, honours all mothers. So does Africa. The population planners, by contrast, see “women of childbearing age” as a threat. Their “reproductive capacity”, they claim, has to be curtailed even at the cost of harm to women’s physical and mental integrity. But we say: a society which shows contempt for welcoming a child and human life holds the woman in contempt. Women must not be put under pressure by “population planners”, but must be given support so that they can reconcile their roles as wives and mothers with their professional and social roles in the community.
We wish to defend the family against the pressures from national and international organizations. Not international bureaucrats, nor agents of aid organizations, nor politicians or governments decide on family size but the parents
It is neither the sole right of the woman to decide on whether or not to have children, nor is the man to dictate to her, but it is their joint responsibility as parents.
Responsible Parenthood means that parents take into account the actual situation of their family: the state of health, physical and psychological, especially of the mother as well as the economic and social situation. They ask themselves: What are our duties towards children already born? Towards society? What are our duties towards God who has created our human nature and guides us by his moral law?
Husband and wife are to have dialogue about the future of their family on a personal and intimate level. This needs a stable marriage where husband and wife regard each other as equal partners. Natural Family Planning (NFP) will not just be another birth control method for them, but will be part of a new type of marriage based on mutual consideration and respect.
People with little respect for marriage do not appreciate NFP. They want technical “quick fix” methods to make casual sex “safe”. The self-centred “right to be sexually active” is irreconcilable with marital love. Which explains why the Cairo documents have little interest in marriage and ignore NFP.
The more educated a woman is the more likely she will be to plan her family. If a government is genuinely concerned about family size, it should invest more in female education. The millions spent on anti- birth advertising had better be spent on education for girls.
Poor people rely on their children as a form of social security for their old age. The rich have no right to deprive them of children. On the contrary, the duty of the rich is to create an economically secure climate and future for the disadvantaged.
· The Family is the most basic cell of society. We ask our government to defend the African family at the Cairo Conference against corrosive foreign influences and ideologies.
· The Family is the most basic unit also of the church. We thank all parents who have built strong and stable families despite all the threats to family life. We ask you to share your positive experience with other parents who are struggling. We ask you especially to guide the young.
We thank all catechists who give marriage instructions to those about to celebrate their weddings.
We thank all engaged in Marriage Encounter, all involved in marriage counseling and in trying to reconcile estranged couples and save families for their good work.
· We ask all priests to help couples not yet married in church to have their unions blessed, to train marriage instructors and to reach the young about love and marriage. We hope you will show your concern for families by visiting them in their homes as much as you can. In this way you live the “spiritual fatherhood” the African Bishops at the Synod spoke about.
· We ask all religious and all vowed to a celibate life ‘for the sake of the Kingdom’ to live your vocation faithfully and joyfully. Your celibate chastity is a precious gift to the whole church and an encouragement to all others in their struggles.
We wish to thank all religious and their lay co-workers who give shelter to abandoned young mothers and their love to children deprived of parental care.
· We wish to say to all widows, all who are divorced, all who are single, all who are deprived of family, as well as single parents trying to bring up their children on their own: you are part of the church; she is your family. We wish to thank you for giving your love to your children. We wish to thank you for creating a family spirit even outside natural families. We ask the entire christen community to always welcome and support you.
· We ask all health workers, doctors and nurses, to respect unborn life. We are saddened by all health workers, modern or traditional, who betray their calling by allowing themselves to be used as agents of death.
We ask all Catholics to fight the social evil of abortion in public as well as in their private lives.
· We call on our young people: there is no such thing as a “right to sexual activity”.
We deplore the incredible foolishness and cowardice of those who do not dare to give you moral guidance when chastity is the only remedy to save you from the killer disease AIDS.
WE condemn those who mislead you: there is no “safety” in condoms.
Be wise: do not rely on such risky devices for your life.
Wait for the day when you will be ready to love as a married person and to experience love that is both life-long and life-giving. Wait for this great gift the Creator has in store for you.
· We thank all who work quietly to familiarize married couples with natural family planning. But a great deal more still has to be done.
We ask Catholic nurses, doctors and pastoral workers, lay leaders and parents to make an all-out effort to set up a network in all diocese, parishes and Small Christian Communities through which any couple who so wishes may be enabled to benefit from NFP.
Finally we appeal to you all for prayers to the Holy Spirit that he may inspire and guide the participants of the Cairo Conference.
We ask you to pray for good and holy families. We ask you to pray in the family and make it the “domestic church”.
Archbishop Patrick F Chakaipa of Harare
Archbishop Henry Karlen CMM of Bulawayo (Vice-President ZCBC)
Bishop Francis Mugadzi of Gweru (President ZCBC)
Bishop Alexio C Muchabaiwa of Mutare
Bishop Ignatius Prieto SMI of Hwange
Bishop Helmut Reckter SJ of Chinhoyi
Bishop Michael Bhasera of Gokwe
Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Mutume, Mutare
Published by the Social Communications Department of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Africa Synod House, 29-31 Selous Avenue, P.O. Box CY2220, Causeway, Harare